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3 Things That Helped My Mental Health While Caring for My Child With CHD

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Has congenital heart defect (CHD) affected my mental health?


Finding out about your child’s congenital heart defect on the third day of his life and knowing he would have to undergo open-heart surgery by 6 months of age does a number to one’s psyche.

Being a first time parent, you have this idea in your head of how things are supposed to go, even though you really don’t know what you’re doing. Add a chronic illness on top of it, and you feel a sort of helplessness, like the rug has been swept out from right under you.

I lived in a state of panic with my son until his first surgery. I worried he would turn blue. I worried about how his medications would affect him. I worried he wasn’t hitting every milestone. All the while, I spent the most time worrying about his upcoming surgery and how all of us would ever be able to make it through such a difficult time.

After his first surgery, almost immediately, our perspective changed. We were grateful and thankful for our son’s mended heart. Of course there were new sets of challenges, but the panic I felt had waned to more of a generalized anxiety. However, what we didn’t know was that there was much more to come.

Had I known back when my son was first diagnosed that he would have not one, but two more unexpected open-heart surgeries before 5 years of age, I would’ve thought I would completely lost it. But you know what, I didn’t.

Here’s what worked for me. It’s not a perfect formula, because I still often have waves of anxiety, but it’s gotten me through.

1. A support system.

This can come in many forms. It may be family, it may be internet mamas you’ve never met who have been through something similar, it may be your next door neighbor. We need someone to connect with. To talk us through the trials, to help pick us up when we’re down and let us know we are not alone.

2. Time for yourself.

Creating balance between the health issues your child is currently facing and trying to stay strong mentally and emotionally is a daunting task. Whether it’s reading a good book, going for a hike, traveling or engaging in some other form of relaxation that nourishes you — do it.

3. Time with your significant other.

This is a difficult one, especially with a young child, but so needed. A chronic illness can have an affect on not only your mental health, but your partner’s as well. Make sure to check in with your partner often. Getting time alone once in awhile can create a healthy balance and a time for you to reconnect.

Making your mental health a priority while your child is undergoing medical treatment may seem like an uphill battle — it is, but trust me, it’s a necessary one. Our children will look to us as examples and will learn how to handle their chronic illnesses by watching how we handle each good report, each setback and how we handle every day in between.

Originally published: November 30, 2017
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